Grand Theft Auto History Part One
Race 'n' Chase
Who thought that a simulator developed in Scotland would become one of the most famous, if not the most famous, video game franchises. DMA Design is probably more known as a developer of Lemmings, a franchise which was popular in the early nineties on the home computers. In the mid-nineties one of their developers came up with a city-wide driving simulation. The first version of the game had a top-down view with player being a cop driving around city and catching bad guys. There was no freedom in the game, because the game would warn you if you drove on the sidewalk or went through a red light. It is kind of ironic when you think about it.
The rights to publish the game were bought by BMG Interactive. The employee which purchased the rights was Sam Houser. He knew that he had something special in his hands, but he also knew that the game was missing something.
One day a developer at DMA came up with the idea to remove the codes for all the warnings and to start awarding player for hitting pedestrians with a car. The concept was not new, but it breathed another life into Race ‘n’ Chase. Sam Houser adored it and he took initiative to change the game form the core. With his love for the gangster movies he pushed forward to make a simple city-wide driving simulator into a whole new game.
The key in this change was something explored, but not as yet completely discovered in video games: freedom. Without rules and a whole city for the player to explore the possibilities were limitless. The game was soon transformed into a gangster flick, with player jacking cars and doing missions for the mafia bosses. The setting of the game was set up in three fictional US cities: Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas, who were respectively based on New York, Miami and San Francisco. As the player progressed in the game, new areas would be unlocked. After a lengthy discussion the developers decided to enable players to have freedom of choice when it comes to doing missions. The player had the freedom to chose which mission to complete and also, more importantly, how to complete it. It was something akin to a real-life crime simulation. Now, the only thing this game needed was a new name, since Race ‘n’ Chase was not anymore near the spirit of the actual game. Someone came up with Grand Theft Auto and the history of video gaming was changed.
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Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto was released in 1997 and made an immediate impact on the gaming society. Even though it was not a hit game at the time, such as Tomb Raider, it still gained a strong cult following. The game was released on multiple platforms including Windows, the original PlayStation and it was later ported to GameBoy Advance.
The setting of the game is a city full of crime and constant gang fighting. The player can choose from eight characters to play, four male and four female characters. For the PlayStation version the player can only chose from four male characters. The graphics are nothing special. Top-down view of pixilated city and blurry pedestrians without any recognizable detail were the life of the game. Sound effects and the soundtrack were something else though. The soundtrack consisted of seven radio stations with tracks performed by a live band. The stations are limited by a type of car the player is driving. For example, in the PlayStation version only two stations are allowed in one car. There is also an eight, police station with police radio chatter. The sound effects were amazing at the time, with the engine roar, tires screech and the thud of closing vehicle doors.
The press hailed the game for its freedom and soundtrack, and the game in general received positive reviews. Grand Theft Auto was a bestseller in the UK, a fact which propelled the design and publishing studio into the top video game companies at the time. BGM Interactive and DMA Design were later bought by the Take-Two Interactive and the companies changed their names into Rockstar Games and Rockstar North respectively.
Two mission packs were available for the original Grand Theft Auto, both set in the 1960’s London: Grand Theft Auto: London, 1969 and Grand Theft Auto: London, 1961.
Grand Theft Auto 2
Grand Theft Auto 2 was released in late 1999 by the Rockstar Games. It was released for Microsoft Windows and Sony PlayStation, and was later ported to Sega Dreamcast and GameBoy Color. The game retained the same engine from the previous one, but it was improved and pedestrians played a bigger role in the game play. The PC version also had an option to play the game in the nighttime or daytime, something which would be later improved in the series. The game play was similar to the first one, the payer ran around the city answering phone booths and ding missions for the gang leaders. Game featured seven gangs this time around. The improvement was that gangs would occasionally start fighting each other, or pedestrians and cops. There were also other carjackers and robbers roaming the streets. The setting of the game was a large city simply named Anywhere, USA. The city was divided into three parts, Downtown, Residential and Industrial District. The player had the ability to interact with all of the seven gangs which are: Zaibatsu, Loonies, SRS, Russian Mafia, the Yakuza, Rednecks and Hare Krishna. The novelty in this game, and something which the series have retained up to this day, are the mini games. Player can be a taxi or an ambulance driver earning money by driving people around or rescuing injured pedestrians. This will be expanded in the future incarnations of the game. Also new was the Killing Frenzy which can be activated by picking up a certain weapon in the streets.
The soundtrack is consisted of eleven radio station and the police, ambulance and fire truck chatter.
Grand Theft Auto 2 was received with mixed reactions. The soundtrack was praised, but the graphics and game play were received negatively. It also has to be noted that the PlayStation version was toned down to the Teen rating, unlike the original PC version which received the Mature ESRB rating. The second game in the series did not sell as nearly as the first game.
Positive thing, and the one which would prove crucial for the future, from this period of Grand Theft Auto series is the contract that Rockstar signed with Sony for their PlayStation consoles. The flop of Grand Theft Auto 2 has to be viewed from different angles. One of them is that the players at the time wanted 3D graphics. The game was released around the same time like the few titles, namely Driver for the original PlayStation, which also had the crime and free-roaming setting. Gamers were maturing at that time and they wanted more mature and more stylistic games. Gameplay was important to them, but GTA 2 failed to satisfy them in that aspect also.
Part One - End
Despite all of this there was a new and bright future for the Rockstar Games and their Grand Theft Auto series. That future was coming from the Japan in the form of a new console that Sony was about to unleash on the unsuspecting gaming world. This big chunky black box was about to change the gaming industry, and also the Grand Theft Auto series. But, that is a story for another part of this history.
Read the sequels of this article: